Democrats, media reel as Trump shocks the DC ecosystem
1/12/17 12:43 AM

Two days of confirmation hearings show that President-elect Trump's Cabinet nominees are taking no prisoners, and are determined to quickly reverse President Obama's most controversial policies, including his immigration actions.

At the same time, Trump himself showed in an unprecedented press conference that his rhetoric against the media wasn't just a campaign stunt, and that he's willing to fight reporters who don't see it his way.

The combination has been a shock to the system, one that has left Democrats with little else to do but warn against Trump's plans, and left the media struggling under the weight of trying to fight Trump and cover Trump at the same time.

On Wednesday, what could have been a substantive first press conference since Trump won the election quickly devolved into a fight about the press. Trump told a CNN reporter he wouldn't let him ask a question because "you are fake news," which prompted CNN and BuzzFeed to defend their decisions to report on and publish (respectively) an unverified report about Trump's links to Russia.o

CNN said its report
was fair, and the National Press Club complained, but none of that seemed likely to tamp down Trump's criticism of a media that has criticized him since he won the GOP nomination.

As the Trump-media war raged Tuesday and Wednesday, Trump's Cabinet nominees were making it clear they're interested in taking key positions in the government in order to start reversing eight years of Obama.

Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee to be the next secretary of state, started tearing apart elements of Obama's foreign policy from the start of his Wednesday testimony. He said Obama had "stumbled," and that U.S. leadership needs to be reasserted.

No talk of degrading and ultimately destroying the Islamic State: Tiller said it needs to be eliminated. He said Russia is a "danger" because of the lack of leadership under Obama, but still left wiggle room for Trump to try to repair the relationship.

He also indicated he'd reverse other aspects of Obama's record. He wants a top-down review, for example, of how Obama has eased U.S.-Cuba policy, and killed a dream of Obama's by blandly saying he'd recommend a veto against legislation to lift the embargo against Cuba.

Tillerson was one of several Cabinet nominees to talk about the southern border wall Trump wants to build. Once mocked as a campaign promise that could never be fulfilled, Tillerson and others openly discussed how a wall and other strategies might work together to help reduce the flow of illegal immigration.

Immigration was a key issue in Sen. Jeff Sessions' Tuesday hearing on his nomination to become the next attorney general. There, Sessions indicated he'd be looking to reverse Obama's executive actions aimed at sparing illegal immigrants from deportation.

He called Obama's actions constitutionally "questionable."

Because Democrats changed the rules to allow nominees to be confirmed in a simple majority vote in the Senate, Democrats have little recourse except to delay Senate proceedings as much as they can. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tried a different approach, by testifying in committee that Sessions is hostile to the idea of civil rights, an approach that was mostly dismissed as a way for Booker to help set up a White House run against Trump in 2020.

Over in another Senate committee, retired Gen. John Kelly was also talking about dismantling Obama's immigration actions when he becomes secretary of Homeland Security. Kelly talked openly about ideas on how boost border enforcement, including by enforcing current laws, which is all many conservatives ever wanted out of the Obama administration.

"The Congress has passed longstanding laws making foreign nationals without legal status removable from the United States, and it is proper for DHS like any other law enforcement organization, to faithfully executive the laws on the books," he said.

As Trump's Cabinet picks chipped away at Obama's legacy on immigration, Republicans in Congress were at the same time plotting the demise of Obama's other major initiative: Obamacare. Republicans have been reenergized by Trump's victory, in particular the notion that they can now pass a repeal law and finally have it signed by the president.

The Senate was expected to vote for a vehicle to repeal Obamacare late Wednesday or early Thursday morning, and because the vehicle is a budget resolution, only 51 votes are needed for passage. The House was expected to pass it by Friday, giving Republicans a clear shot at repeal for the first time since Obamacare became law in 2010.

Republicans have softened somewhat in their approach. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said he would bow to conservative demands to include elements of a replacement for Obamacare in language aimed at repealing the law. That's meant to ensure Republicans aren't stuck with millions of people who lost their insurance, who would complain to Republicans about their situation.

But even here, the GOP is operating independently of Democrats, just as Democrats passed Obamacare at the start of Obama's presidency without the help or much input from Republicans.
For Republicans, the icing on the cake might be a series of deregulatory efforts that they also hope to get to Trump's desk. The House passed another measure along those lines Wednesday night.

The offense-minded Trump team seems likely to keep reshaping Washington reality and expectations on Thursday, when nominees charged with defense, housing and commerce will testify.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., will also testify on how he'd lead the CIA, another agency that Trump has hinted might be in line for reform when he's sworn in eight days from now.